Interview with ReGeneration: ChemSex in Serbia, a 2020 forecast

Chemsex (read problematic chemsex) is becoming an important issue for Harm Reduction, PLHIV and LGBTI organisations in the Balkans and globally. As stated in papers previously published by ERA, it is argued that problematic chemsex – not use of drugs per se – are associated with various harms such as a rise in HIV, hepatitis and STI transmissions as well as addictive practices, depression, psychosis, criminal activity and death from overdose or suicide, particularly when involving the use of crystal meth and the injecting of substances. 

Several ERA members, such as Škuc Magnus and Legebitra in Slovenia – are addressing the topic of chemsex through a series of educational, outreach and advocacy efforts, as part of their large working package on addressing HIV and sexual and mental health of LGBTI people in their country. 

Organisation Re Generacija, in Serbia, works also on the chemsex issue and we spoke to its coordinator Irena Molnar for a more detailed feedback on forecasts for 2020 and their plans: 

1. How do you assess the situation with ChemSex at the moment in Serbia? 

The situation with Chemsex in Serbia is worrying, as it is becoming more and more a common practice among the MSM community in the country and globally. Re Generation still does not have precise numbers and data, but what people are reporting to us is definitely alarming. There is an urgent need for multidisciplinary services, tackling not only drug use and its harms, HIV and Hep C transmission, but also answering to the bigger need for mental health support and safe-behaviour among key populations. 

2. Do you expect the situation to improve or get worse during 2020? What type of actions are you planning to undertake to minimise the harmful impact of chemsex in the community?

Well, I wouldn't predict things in that manner. We know that the emergence of new psychoactive substances, year by year, presents new challenges. In our work we are primarily tackling safe use of substances and safe behaviour in general. As a new association, in 2019, we started by first mapping the needs of the community. This will remain our main focus for 2020, as we believe that accurate data and information will help us design adequate community services and advocacy actions. A major challenge in this regard remains the lack of funding to scale up services - which are almost non-existent at this point - and we believe that with good partnerships and community engagement, we will be able to offer the most necessary services to the community, starting small and scaling up progressively. 

3. Could you share with us one interesting activity which you implemented recently (or that you are planning to implement in 2020)? 

At the moment, there is a lot going on in our organisation that we are happy with. We have just started a two-year project focusing on prevention of gender based violence in nightlife settings, called “Sexism Free Night”, funded by the European Commission. The project is important as it aims to reduce sexual violence and sexism in nightlife scenes and raise awareness among party goers by promoting safer and egalitarian environments, particularly for women and queer communities.  

Another exciting initiative we are currently implementing is the “Let Me” project (Let’s talk about drugs: new methods of communication with youth). It aims to support youth workers, educators, street workers and harm reduction specialists in their work with youth who are potential drug users and to provide them with innovative approaches and methods on drug education. 

4. How do you evaluate the cooperation between LGBTI, Harm Reduction and PLHIV organisations in Serbia and what else could be done to further improve them? 

The cooperation between LGBTI, harm reduction and HIV organisation in Serbia definitely needs improvement and more cooperation, especially when it comes to issues that connect us all such as human rights. The other common denominator we all have is the health and well-being of key populations, which I believe requires us to have intersectional and multidimensional approaches and to develop cooperation projects which can concretely improve the living conditions of the communities we are working with.